Mt Shasta, Clear Creek, November 2015
Climbed with Jared Arzaga and Chris Troxell
11/12/2015-11/13/2015. 28 hours on the mountain.
Route: Clear Creek Trail
Weather: Sunny and cool with no wind at all. Temperature ranged from around 45 degrees at the trailhead to probably the 20s in the middle of the night at our 9500′ base camp.
Snow Conditions: With heavy snow a week before our climb and beautiful weather the days leading up to our climb, the mountain was in surprisingly good condition for November. The snow was deep enough to blanket the ground and make climbing easier and it was just firm enough to kick solid steps all of the way up. We even managed to glissade over 2000′ on the descent. I’m pretty sure we just got extremely lucky with conditions because this can’t be normal for Shasta in November, otherwise there would be a lot more people climbing it this time of the year. Essential Gear: Crampons, Ice Axe
After climbing Mt Adams last month, my friend Jared and I began talking about making a trip down to Mt Shasta. We recruited another friend, Chris, and then scheduled some time off and began researching routes. The Clear Creek route sounded like the safest way up the mountain in November, since most of the mountain is subject to rockfall this time of year.
A storm hit the mountain several days before our climb, dumping a lot of fresh new snow. From then on through our climb the forecast was calling for beautiful, cool, calm, and sunny conditions. Fingers were crossed that the conditions would hold.
Thursday, November 12th, at 4:00am I got the call from Chris saying he was outside. Jared and I grabbed our gear and headed out to the truck. We were leaving Portland exactly on schedule and off to a great start. Our appetites were waking up after a couple hours on the road, so we made a pit stop at Ruby’s Neighborhood Restaurant in Ashland for some breakfast burritos and hot coffee. This place did not disappoint! I had one of the best vegan burritos I’ve ever had. All three of us agreed that we had to stop here for another burrito on the way home.
We pulled into the ranger station in Mt Shasta around 10:30am, purchased our $25 climbing permits, and got some information from the friendly ranger at the desk. He said they hadn’t had any climbers stop in in quite a while so he had to pull out a clean registration sheet for us. That wasn’t too surprising since November isn’t the ideal time to climb, but it did make me second guess my decision. But we had done our research and knew what we were getting into. And the weather and snow conditions seemed to be cooperating.
The ranger told us we would run into snow on the road about 2 miles before the trailhead and he was right. The drive from the Mt Shasta Ranger Station to the Clear Creek Trailhead took us about an hour with a little road construction, and the last couple miles were rough and covered in several inches of fresh snow. It was getting to the point where accessing the trailhead in a car would be very difficult, if not impossible. We had no problems in a 4×4 truck.
Before heading out on this trip I made the decision to go light on the camera gear. Often for trips like this I will pack multiple lenses, a tripod, extra batteries, and a bag full of other “essentials.” This time, however, I didn’t want to be weighed down too much. I decided to bring only one lens, my kit 18-105mm. This is by no means my favorite lens, but it has a good range for mountain shots, both wide angle and zoom. And, most importantly, it’s a lens that I don’t feel like I have to baby too much. It has treated me well in the mountains many times so I was comfortable relying on it alone this time. It was also nice having more space and a few less pounds in my pack.
Once at the trailhead, we split up the tent, stoves, fuel, and other group gear and did one final inventory. It was almost 1 pm by the time we were actually on the trail, one hour later than projected, but still feeling like we could comfortably reach our 9500′ to 10000′ camp by dark.
Less than a mile up the trail we found some blood, fur, and signs of a struggle in the fresh snow. Then, we found what appeared to be some tracks of a large cat trailing a deer. And, after a closer inspection we found where the cat had dragged the deer off the trail, over some logs, and into the thick woods. It was really cool to see, but slightly eerie. The three of us jokingly agreed that we should try to make our return trip through this area before dark the following evening just in case that guy was still hungry.
Since the Clear Creek trail was completely covered in fresh snow, navigation was harder than expected. For the most part, the trail was easy to follow, but where the trail cuts down to the left to cross the creek, we continued up the ridge for a little longer. It didn’t take long to realize we had made a mistake somewhere, so the maps came out. After cutting down across the creek with running water we found some cairns and other signs of the trail, and then followed them up the mountain.
After crossing 9000′ feet we started keeping our eyes open for a bivy site. The sun was setting fast and we were hoping to get everything set up before dark. Over to our right there was a rocky ridge so we cut over, expecting to find a built up wind shelter. As expected, there was a nice established camp site around 9500′ and we all agreed it was the spot to stop. It took a little work to dig the snow out and set up the tent, but we were all in the tent warming up as darkness settled over us at 6:00pm.
The temperatures were probably in the mid 20s outside, but with three of us plus gear inside the tent, we were cozy and warm all night. When our alarms went off at 4:15am, the morning routine started with coffee warming on the stove. It was surprisingly difficult and time consuming getting dressed and prepared for the summit push in the tight quarters. When I looked at my watch we were already past our 5:00am start time and we hadn’t even touched our boots, crampons, or stepped outside the tent. After some more coffee and a stop behind the rocks to use the wag bag, we were heading up the mountain by the light of our headlamps at 5:45am.
From camp, the route to the summit was basically a straight line with almost 5000′ elevation gain. Our pace started out strong but increasingly slowed as the air thinned. The snow was in surprisingly great shape for climbing and we enjoyed solid footing as we kick-stepped our way up the snowfields. Jared, however, had never been above 10500′ so he was really feeling the altitude. As we approached mushroom rock we were reduced to a slow shuffle, taking breaks every 5 to 10 steps.
The steep boulder scramble up Misery Hill was a welcome relief to the seemingly endless Stairmaster-like climbing on the snow slopes. Once nearing the top, though, my stomach sank as the summit came into view and it was a lot further away than expected. I took a knee and checked the elevation on my Delorme. 13500 ft! I climbed up a little higher and took a seat on some rocks to wait for Chris and Jared. As they approached I could clearly see the disappointment on their faces as well. We had a hard turnaround time of noon, since we still had to descend, break down camp, make it back to the truck, AND drive all the way to Portland. It was 11:30am. We still had a couple hundred feet to climb, including a final steep push up to the rocky summit point. Given the time constraint and Jared’s increasingly deteriorating condition, we agreed to climb up to the crater rim, a mere 300-400 ft short of the summit, and turn around.
Once at the crater rim, we decided to walk around a couple hundred meters to the north west to a spot with a better view to get a group photo. I pulled out my tripod for the first time all day and set up the camera. I set it take a photo every 19 seconds for 100 photos, figuring that would be plenty of time for us to get into position and get a few shots to pick from. After starting the short I walked out to Jared and Chris and we posed for photos. We only stuck around for about 2 or three minutes before calling it a day and deciding to get off the mountain. After breaking down the tripod and starting down the mountain, spirits were high and we were all feeling pretty happy to have made it as far as we did and even happier to begin the descent.
After the first 500’ or so down the mountain we reached the first smooth snow slopes. Jared was the first one to try glissading and he made it a couple hundred feet down before coming to a stop. From then on, we glissaded in small increments almost all the way down to our tent at 9500’. The time and energy saved descending that way was huge!
Once back at the tent we immediately began boiling snow for drinking water, since the three of us were all out of water, and breaking down camp. Within an hour we had our packs on again and moving down the mountain as fast as our legs could carry us.
We crossed through the mountain lion kill zone at dusk, barely before dark as we had hoped, and reached the truck at 5:00pm. After changing clothes, cleaning up, and packing the truck we were on the road by 6:00pm. A little research revealed that Ruby’s in Ashland was going to close at 8:00pm, making it questionable whether or not we would make it. Since we were starving and didn’t want to risk missing our burritos, we pulled over in Weed, CA, and found an alternative.
It was 1:30am by the time we rolled into Portland, officially making it a very long day. If I were to do it again, I’d definitely set aside three days for this trip. Driving 14+ hours and summiting a 14er is a lot to accomplish in 2 days, but it can be done.
Backpack: The North Face Cobra 60
Sleeping Bag: Sierra Designs Ridge Runner 0 degree bag
Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket
Cookset: GSI Halulite Minimalist
Jacket: The North Face Thermoball Hoodie
Pants: The North Face Descendit soft shell pant
Boots: The North Face Verto S4K
Crampons: Black Diamond Compact Strap Crampons
Ice Axe: Grivel G1
Camera: Nikon D7000
Lens: 18-105mm f3.5-5.6
Tripod: RoadTrip Aluminum Travel Tripod, MeFOTO